Wikipedia defines animatronics as “the use of robotic devices to emulate a human or animal or bring lifelike characteristics to otherwise inanimate object.” Whenever I need a concise way to describe what I do, I tell people “I make things move in an interesting way.” That seems to satisfy those who need some clarification of what animatronics is. It is a good explanation because it does sum up the ultimate goal of any animatronic project. We are living creatures and our attention is engaged by other living creatures. When an inanimate object exhibits lifelike behaviors, that engagement increases to a whole new level.
Animatronics borrows from across many disciplines and incorporates a wide range of methods and techniques to accomplish its goal of creating a lifelike performance. Puppetry, biomechanics, anatomy, robotics and mechatronics are just a few of the fields that contribute to animatronics. Before anyone gets the idea that animatronics is all technical and can be broken down into purely engineering terms it must be acknowledged that there is a very strong artistic element. The esthetic requirements must be met before any animatronic project can be deemed successful. The human brain has specialized in observing biological movement for a long time, and even if everything is completely sound from the biomechanical perspective, if it don’t look right it ain’t right.